SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis; Government’s lack of energy policy.
PAUL HENLEY, HOST: Joining me now is Anthony Albanese who is the Leader of Opposition in Australia, the head of the Labor Party. Mr Albanese, welcome. First, tell us about these fires because you have been touring affected areas, haven’t you? What have you seen?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, these fires have been classified as catastrophic across the country, but particularly in New South Wales where there are over a hundred fires. Sydney is essentially now surrounded in what is a wall of fire, effectively. Fires that have joined up so that some of the fire fronts stretch for tens of kilometres, and perhaps even hundreds to be frank. Fires are also going in Queensland; South Australia has been classified as catastrophic as well. And in north western Australia, a long way away, the equivalent of Moscow from London, really, in terms of distance, that is where the winds come from. And whilst it is cooler today in Sydney, the fact that the temperatures are up in extraordinary levels, means that in about five or six days’ time we can once again expect the heat to hit the heavily-populated east coast regions. We have had a number of fatalities, two last Thursday evening in south west Sydney. And we have had many, many injuries. More homes lost than have been ever lost before. And we are just at December. Traditionally, the bushfire season has really arked up around about January and around February, at the end of summer. What we are seeing here is that there are many fires that have been going since essentially the middle of the year. And the firefighters are brave and courageous, but they are fatigued. Many of them are volunteers. And it really is a quite dire situation.
HENLEY: Not many people these days are doubting the link between climate change and these extraordinary conditions that are leading to these fires, are they? Including the Prime Minister, who seems to have come on board, judging by the clip we just heard. Too little too late?
ALBANESE: Well, finally just weeks ago, Members of the Government were condemning any suggestion of a link with climate change as being hysterical. The fact is that the bushfire season is doing exactly what the science has told us it would do. It is starting longer, the fires are more intense, because of the prolonged drought and the dryness associated as well with climate change, we have seen during these fires, parts of tropical rainforests which have never burned, burning. They have never been subject to bushfires burning. We have seen twice last week the record broken for the hottest day in Australia. We see temperatures in suburbs in Sydney, like Penrith, reaching 47 degrees. And this is not business as usual. The Government has essentially had to see through the smoke that is being created by these fires and acknowledge that there is a connection there.
HENLEY: But in terms of taking action, you’re caught in the same trap as the Prime Minister and other Australian politicians, aren’t you? Your party represents jobs in coal mining areas, or rather represents the people in coal mining areas. It could be badly hit if there is a reversal in Government policy?
ALBANESE: Look, the fact is that when Labor was last in Government in 2007, coal miners did ads for Labor’s policies, which was to put a price on carbon and to support an emissions trading scheme. We, in Government, introduced the renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020, which has more than been that. And one of the things that we have pointed out is that good action on climate change creates jobs as well as lowering emissions and lowering power prices. The truth is that for our domestic emissions, renewables are now the cheapest form in spite of some claims by the members of the Government, the Coalition, the conservative party. They have not built a new coal-fired power station, nor has the private sector, because the market simply isn’t there for it. And we think that very clearly, we do need to act on climate change. We make no apologies for that. And that doesn’t mean that coal exports are going to end tomorrow. It does mean that you acknowledge change that is happening domestically. And of course, Australia, just last week, at the conference of the parties just last week in Madrid sent along a minister, Angus Taylor, without an energy policy, because Australia doesn’t have an comprehensive energy policy, without being able to meet our Paris targets that the conservative Government signed up to without doing a fiddle, essentially an accounting fiddle, to take into account the Kyoto credits that came from when Labor was in last in Government, not due to anything from this Government.
HENLEY: Thank you. I am going to have to end it there, I do apologise. Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Labor Party in Australia, many thanks.